Greetings from Brew Town.
After a busy “Winter Warm-Up” weekend, I think it’s safe to say that everyone is anxious to play ball. All of us involved in the fan festivities were blown away at the turnout and enthusiasm displayed at the Riverside Theater and Midwest Airlines Center. Over 14,000 fans turned out and a great time was had by all. I spoke to a lot of fans over the weekend. Three P’s dominated the conversations. Prince, Powell, and pitching.
First, Prince. I had a good chat with the big man and he is genuinely relieved to get a two-year deal in place. He’s a show stopping drawing card. A player who “moves the needle” as we say in TV and now he’ll be paid like one. The Brewers get some financial certainty. They won’t have to go through what the Phillies are dealing with now concerning Ryan Howard and arbitration. It’s hard to budget when the salary a player makes isn’t decided until February.
Meanwhile, Prince Fielder gets some financial stability and as he put it, his family is now taken care of which allows him to concentrate on baseball. Prince is a great family man with a wife and two young children. I realize it’s all relative but playing a sport for a living has its hazards and the opportunity to secure your family can turn into big production on the job. Especially when you’re dealing with a player as driven and competitive as Prince Fielder. He told me he’s been working out with a trainer. He’s been doing some hitting drills for a few weeks as well and likes where his swing is right now.
Prince had a funny story about this batting cage he stumbled upon back in Orlando. He popped his head in the door and asked the manager if he could take some hacks. I’m sure the guy thought it was some kind of joke. Can you imagine? You’re sitting at work, waiting for your customers to get out of school and Prince Fielder shows up asking if he can borrow your batting cage. That would be like Uecker showing up at a music store asking to test out a microphone. Prince has been hitting there ever since and now he’s got the entire staff lined up offering to throw him batting practice. Prince couldn’t believe they recognized him. Ha!
Prince is happy and the Brewers are happy he’s happy!
As for Jim Powell…he’s officially been named the radio voice of the Atlanta Braves joining Don Sutton. Congrats to Jim. I know how much he loved Milwaukee and how much he agonized over the decision. He deserves a lead job. To call big league baseball for your hometown team, replacing the men (Skip Caray and Pete Van Wieren) who inspired you to do this job in the first place, is a once in a lifetime opportunity. He made the right choice. He’ll be missed. Jim was an extraordinary help to me and my family when I moved here in 2007. We spent many of hours on the buses and planes talking shop. I’ll be forever grateful for his friendship during our time together in Milwaukee. Now, Rock and I get to charge pre game meals in Atlanta to Powell’s account instead of Joe Simpson’s.
The Brewers system for choosing a broadcaster is thorough, I can attest. I still haven’t recovered. Bob Uecker is heavily involved in the process and his new partner will be announced soon. Please welcome whomever they choose with open arms. It’s not easy being the new guy.
The Pitching: When I last wrote, the plan was to add another starting pitcher. After speaking with Mark Attanassio and Doug Melvin, it appears they are set to begin the season with what they have. The payroll is in the $80-85 million range right now. Staying there allows some payroll flexibility to make a mid-season trade (e.g. CC Sabathia) if needed.
The Brewers feel the crop of free agent starters still available isn’t worth the payroll risk at the current asking price. They feel they’re in a better position to win by channeling funds to a closer (Trevor Hoffman) and position players: Ryan Braun and Jason Kendall (contracts last year), Mike Cameron and Prince Fielder (contracts this year), Hardy, Weeks and Hart (in arbitration). The young talent is now making millions instead of hundreds of thousands so the payroll approach has shifted.
Meanwhile, they ask Yovanni Gallardo and Manny Parra to develop into front line starters (they are certainly capable). Then, the club is able to keep the financial flexibility that allows Doug Melvin to use the talented minor league system as currency for an impact trade if need be.
This season will also be an important year to replenish the farm system. Scouting Director Bruce Seid has said the Crew could have as many as nine of the first 100 draft picks in June. High draft picks cost big money in bonuses. Nine of the top 100 will require some serious financial planning. You don’t want to have all of these picks then not be able to get them signed and into the system.
Only time will tell if the approach pays off. It sounds like a smart plan and I understand the thinking. I believe the Brewers are a playoff team right now. The power of tremendous fan support has given Doug Melvin and company leverage in a time when most teams are cutting back significantly. We are in the heart of an exciting era of Brewers baseball. Let’s enjoy it.